Gone To London:The Life Of Roisin Sullivan

Dickens Fair is in the process of transformation. It is a matter of changing or dying. Times have changed and it is no longer possible or desirable to privilege one group over another, or to deny the needs and chances of people on the basis of appearance, gender, or identification. I hope we make it through. 

In the meantime, I have gone back to my roots, remembering why I loved Renaissance and Dickens Fairs so much, and how my feelings have changed. My Bartstationbard.com site has those posts. 

I have also gone back to what amounts to an electronic version of the Faire application that used to be the standard. After all the contact and workshop info, we were faced with a blank page to be filled with our character bio. 

A couple Dickens back, I tried to go back to busking. My character has a tin ear, and I was tired of playing a tart, so I created another. She lasted a year, I found the new rules unbearable. We were to be confined to one defined spot, and our repertoires were to be cleared in advance. We were carded on a regular basis. My gig became robotic, my mind on whether or not I was boring the boothies I was stationed in front of to tears, and where Security was. It was hard to spark interaction with the customers or the cast tucked away in a corner as I was, and by the end of the run I was through. 

Roisin, however, thrived. We talked constantly with each other, and when Fair was over she was happy to go back to busking the transit stations with me. She discovered the Dropkick Murphys and fell in love with punk. She loved the freedom of my time. When we decided to pack it in at the end of the run we planned her exit. Her life had been largely chosen for her. I may have set the parameters, but in my head she told me her story. I have always done my best to let characters, whether written or played at Faire, tell their own stories. Choosing for them either leaves me alone in my costume, or produces a story with the consistency of cardboard. 

Roisin’s story was built on my gig, and the what-if of giving it to an Irish girl who had been put into service in London because her parents could not support either her or themselves. What if, after fifteen years, when the Famine came, that family was destroyed, some dying in Ireland, and the rest emigrating to America? What if she lost her place, and met Jeremy? 

Believe it or not, after setting her up with that awful situation, she still speaks to me. She quickly made a deal with Jeremy, continued to busk on the same terms the girls had, and at the end of the run, he got her on a ship to Boston where she joined her family. That was all I knew. It was plenty to work with then, and now it is a great excuse to do the rest of the research and tell that story. After all, one of the reasons it came alive so easily is that we have not worked through these issues to this day. All we have done is to cast other marginalized people in the roles. Now that the Irish have become white, it is quite clear what was going on then, and now. 

Archive of our Own hosts original fiction as well as fanfic. It’s a great place for us to tell our character stories. When Fair has worked through the issues, we might just know each other better on and off the streets of London. 

Gone To London:The Life Of Roisin Sullivan

Respect For The Performer

A busker suspended in a collage of Renaissance Faire Images
A busker suspended in a collage of Renaissance Faire Images

We spent a lot of time last weekend looking at our old photos of Faire, and topped it off with videos on YouTube. The videos in particular reminded me of the shape of the illusion we all created. While it is true that LHC made the playground, we made the Faire.

Over my desk there’s a collage of images. They cover much more than Faire. In the center is a woman made of branches, her heart of fire green in her breast and her face uplifted to the sky among her leaves. An enhanced computer image of Long Meg, with all her cup-and-ring decorations towers over her, scarred by the passage of time and floating in a black background. My backpack, outer clothing and bodhran case are grouped around a tree on the shore of Llyn Tegid, in Wales, but the image I look to now is of myself, bodhran in hand, in leine and wool bonnet in Witches Wood, at Black Point.

Back then things were far from perfect, but I walked into another time and place every morning. My bodhran and basket were on my back and the day was there for the living. I started my journey as a matter of fact, the same way I started my day at Dickens, with a cup of Chai at the Mullah’s and conversation with good friends. Kenny Millikan might regale us with the tale of the Dawn Haggis, a creature we could only glimpse in his words. He had a jar of soft sculpture backsides, which he swore were pixie butts. The Pixie would take up the story at this point, telling us how they fell off in the fall, and that each Pixie had a special dance that sent them flying.

We carried stories like this into the streets and told them to Travellers. Some embellished them further or spun off wild tales of their own. There were a pair of Celts who came to Faire every year and found me busking on the streets. They would persuade me to take a trip to an alestand with them, and we would roar through the Faire. I would drop off after a while to play another set, and let them continue their colorful ramble through the playground they visited once a year. You may remember them, or you may not, for they were an ornament to the time and place we all created together, and while they were the very picture of uproarious revellers, they never, to my knowledge, caused a problem. Would they be welcome today? I don’t know. They chose their level of participation, and had complete freedom on the day per year they chose. They would not have been out of place backstage, though of course they were never seen there. Some lines, it has been made quite clear to me, are not to be crossed.

As a busker, I walked until I was tired, kept my tankard full of water when I played–both singer and bodhran found song a thirsty business–and told tales in rhyme to the beat of the drum. I stopped when asked, as some of the vendors would want me to grace the area around their booths with my music, and also when the Faire beckoned. While I had specific places I favored for a set, I was not in any one of them for longer than an hour or so. I made it a point to never repeat a song within a set lest I cease to please and begin to grate on those whose trade kept them in one place.

To me, that endless round through the streets is now missing. Every nook and cranny is filled with a booth or a stage, and there is nowhere to stop without stepping on the perfectly timed shows. Performers run from one to another, rarely stopping to play in streets too small to build a world in! We are watched, and our flaws marked. While there do of course have to be certain standards, we are no longer trusted to want to uphold them, not because they render a world deeper and more colorful than the one we return to after the last chorus is sung, but because we have people working to reveal our flaws instead of praising our glories.

There are still good times to be had, and bright spots in days growing ever longer, but as a busker I have been chased from these streets. I am no longer Jeremy’s messenger, part of the web of the underworld of London. While I miss Roisin, or Lucy, as she was called in London, I take heart in the knowledge that Jeremy’s girls were only a temporary shelter for her. In the end she did manage to join her family in America where they fled from An Gorta Mor. Perhaps Lucy’s story will fork, as did Jeremy’s and Jenny’s. Perhaps not. The characters I played never were wholly confined to the Faire. They came from somewhere, and kept going after it was over. Knowing who they were and in the end where they went was a part of their living presence on the streets, and the memory they leave for me when they move on.

Lugh’s Fire

Sun at Dover
Where is the division of science and religion? Does there need to be one? Maybe Lugh is already here, shining on us every day because that is what he does. On the eve of Lugh’s day here’s a merging of myth and science:

Happy Lughnasadh!</div>

Taliesin

Grey sky, the green hills reflected in the still waters of the lake

This is the first chant I ever wrote. It was only supposed to be an exercise at an experiential camp. We wrote for several minutes, and then were told to distill what turned out for me to be several pages into three sentences.

Not surprisingly, few of us could do it. It’s hard to throw away the words that have welled up within you, and pick only a few to share. We forget that once written they are still there on the page. Looking back at them now, I see echoes of the future, the Druidic path that I now walk. The waters of Llyn Tegid stretch before me, and the gold and green of Netimus. The cauldron holds the experiences, and the words are shaped by the past and the streams of wisdom others left behind for me to drink from. That night, in ritual, the bare words cycled through my head, slowly clothing themselves in song. All I had to do was listen and remember.

What is within you? How has the past shaped you and where has the future bled into your own life? Each age needs a retelling of the Tales, we all must drink from the Well and give our gift to the world. We are all Taliesin. Now, more than ever, the world needs our inspiration.

 

Phoenixes Rise

 

A Scow Schooner Sailing Under The Golden Gate Bridge

A decade ago I had come to the end of a road. After a door that shouldn’t have been was firmly closed, I was standing high above San Francisco Bay, looking at the Golden Gate beneath a soft blue sky and the heights of Mt. Tamalpais to the north. I decided to rise. I raised my arms to the wind and asked to be blown to my allies. Then I wrote this chant.

Very soon after, I became a Druid. I haven’t looked back.

Erin Rose Conner · Phoenix Chant

Find Me A Place

earthdec71972

I wrote this back in 2014, after coming back from the UK. I was looking for my ancestors, and instead, I found that home was right where I’d left it–under my feet.

Most of us in this country are a rich blend of many different places and peoples. We can be mixed up and homeless, or we can learn to live with the people and in the places we ended up in.

Just maybe we’re about to learn to be one human race.

Erin Rose Conner · Find Me A Place

Peace Begins With Me

Awen made of rocks from Llyn Tegid and yew from Sussex
     The pandemic has changed us, and whether we know it or not, there is no going back to the way things were.
     Our divisions have been laid bare. Perhaps we need to realize our interdependence rather than insist on a fantasy of independence that ignores all the things we depend on to pursue it, from the people, unsung and poorly paid, who sell us groceries, work the land, and slaughter the animals, to the nurses and health care workers, also compensated far below their worth, to the people who hold the reins of power, the ones who need to learn what sharing really is.
     Right now, our world is a chessboard, thrown skyward. Who knows where the pieces will land, and in what order? When all is in flux, it’s time for magic, and then to roll up our sleeves and make what we see real.
So every morning I light a candle to Brighid.
I sing to her, a song of my own crafting:

and ask:

“Lady of Healing
Please throw your Cloak of Healing over the Earth.
Help us to remember our kinship with all beings.
Help us learn to live in peace with all beings,
from the microbes to the stars.”
     It is suicidal to declare war on the microbes, the largest kingdom on this planet.
They are us. They digest our food and return our bodies to the Earth when we die.
They are the oldest inhabitants of this planet, the ones who turn the wheel of life as we cycle from one life into the next, fed by and feeding on the life we are part of. These great cycles are what make us one.
     Every morning I call on the life force beneath and above me and say these words:
“Peace begins with me. Peace begins with all of us. Today I take that health, strength and peace that flows through me and spread it over the whole world, radiant and alive.”
     I see the Earth glowing with it, feel it flowing through me and back to its source until I can feel it rising from the ground beneath me.
     I continue:
“I now live in a world where everyone has that peace, where everyone has food, shelter, and clothing appropriate to our needs and our creeds, and above all the awareness that we are the web of life. What we do to the web we do to ourselves.”
     I send energy where it is needed, to those I know in particular who need it. And then I can do my own stretching and bending, to keep the flow of life within me strong, so I have something to share, so I can climb on my bicycle, carry heavy loads, do the work that is mine in this world.
     If we all do what we know needs to be done, we will all be healed, safe, fed, clothed and sheltered. We are all responsible because we are the ones here, now, the only ones that can respond to the world around us. We don’t get to pick and choose. Everyone is worthy, and all are needed.
      I spent the week in preparation. I will al long last be going back to work. I am apprehensive to be forced back onto public transit on a daily basis, but have no practical choice right now. A tourist attraction seems to me to be the last thing that should be opening up right now, but the dice cup is rattling and perhaps my perspective will be useful. I know I’m not the only one who thinks this way.
     It also looks like the government here is hiring contact tracers—a badly needed step. We have both taken the training, but my partner is the one without a job and I need to keep the one I already have. I’m setting in place the ways I can help her while being out of the house again on a full time basis.  I am also making masks, in this last week I am free to do this work. I don’t know where they will be needed, but the way things are going, I think we will all be wearing them for the foreseeable future. Might as well make some attractive, well-fit ones that are as comfortable as possible. I know I want a week’s worth to make sure I have a clean one each day, and I plan to carry a few wherever I go to pass out as needed.
Every morning, I light a candle…
Candle burning in a cauldron, on an altar

Don’t Expect Your Art To Support You

This blog post resonates with me. But it also makes me wonder a bit. Since when does the world owe us artists and clergy a living? Haven’t we learned anything from observing our professional priests and celebrities?

Elizabeth Gilbert said this best in Big Magic, when she was talking about day jobs and the importance of having one: “I never wanted to burden my writing with the responsibility of paying for my life. I knew better than to ask this of my writing, because over the years, I have watched so many other people murder their creativity by demanding that their art pay the bills.”

I, too, long for the time to pursue my vocation, to live from my connection to the Awen and the Art that comes from it. But I know that in this world where the robber barons are stealing our time and our effort, it will only happen if I go after the most butts in the most seats—and my music and writing ain’t about that. I refuse to make it all about the fashion of the day, so I have to support it, not the other way around.

I, too, know what it is to serve a deity. I am Gaia’s, body and soul and every day I do as she has bid me, even though it is difficult. I, too, know the searing touch of Awen. I’ve knelt on the deck of a ship, a deadblow hammer in one hand, a brick chisel in the other, a piece of paper pinned to the deck beside me with a pen on top of it, scribbling out the verses as they come to me, humming like a person demented. I know that if I can’t snatch a minute or two between tasks, that music will be gone forever. I’m doing it now to tap out the words of this post. This is my life, right now, and hard as it is, I would not trade it for any other.

The problem with wishing for patronage, for some bygone era when Fili were paid to pursue their vocations, is that, like that Golden Age that the politicians are currently trying to sell us, when life was easy and understandable, and our countries were strong and perfect, it doesn’t exist. It never did. Yes, there have always been rock stars, people who are talented enough and lucky enough to find a way to write their own ticket, but most of us will be spending a good part of our lives working to make our art, and serve our gods, not making art as a means of making a living. It is a great and wonderful ideal, a utopia to strive towards, but we have yet to create it. I hope we do. I want to be Jake Sisko, citizen of the Federation, spending his life in service to his art. Maybe someday we will all be doing that one thing we were born to do, but if humanity gets to that point, it will be because those of us who think this future is possible and necessary put in the hard work to make it happen.

As I scribbled the disjointed beginnings of this post, before dawn, as I struggled into my uniform, I was once again faced with the truth of this age: if we want a world where we can stop whenever the Awen demands it and can follow that flow to the end of the piece of art, we need to bring it into being. We need to stop the Captains of Industry from robbing us of the only thing that is truly ours: our time as embodied beings with supple fingers and clever minds. Until we do that, we will be faced with two choices: scribbling in the corners of time left to us or shivering in the garret.

I was lucky enough to spend a year brewing the Awen, and to receive it at the end of that process. If I learned anything in that time, it’s that Inspiration must be paid for, one way or another. It is distilled from our experiences as much as it is from anything that happens within that Cauldron, and if we can’t fill it with the sum of our lives, the substance of Song will come from nowhere else.

So while I, too, long for leisure, for a Patreon to take care of my earthly needs, I know that in this time, in this age, it is not likely to happen for a good long time, until I’ve earned the experiences that will earth my work, and created enough of it to be able to write my own ticket. I will be guided by the twin poles of what is beautiful, and what is well received, and that is a good thing. For if we don’t create art that is understandable as well as beautiful, if we don’t channel the fruits of Inspiration into this world in a way that touches people as it touches us, that art is worthless. A bit of unverified personal gnosis that I received from Taliesin was to “Create a container, strong and beautiful, and fill it with Inspiration.” I know when I have done that when I see the light go on behind the eyes of a listener, or in a more crass example, when a person, tears streaming down their face, throws a twenty into my busking bowl.

So I spend my days serving goddesses. Not just Gaia, though my service to her is shot through everything I do, from my walk to work in the morning, where I sing the world we need into being, from the OPT (Other Peoples Trash) I pick up every day in service to the spirits of Oakland and San Francisco, to the sailing ships BALCLUTHA and THAYER, whose careers I use as a vehicle for the stories of oppression, overfishing and deforestation that they can tell, as well as the lives of the men and women who served in vessels like them during the Age of Sail. I tell stories, now that I can no longer bump down seams or use a chipping hammer. My Ladies disabled me in their service—but the stories I tell have a beauty and a truth that they would not have had I not done these things. Saturn and Chiron have also had their way with me, as well as Brighid and Cerridwen. My broken body and dreams, the words and music that reside in my Soundcloud and my blog were purchased with those experiences, and when I lay this body down, I will leave them behind so that people remember what it was like to live in these wonderful, terrible, pivotal times.

I don’t want a living. I’m happy to have lived a life in service.

The Sickness

I got it! Why Pantheacon left such a bad taste in my mouth—why, of all the years I’ve gone, I got sick this time. Con crud has always passed me by before. I thought my “secret” was purely physical, a protection conferred by my homeopathic remedies and the fact that my job exposes me to basically everything, as well as all the walking I do, the trash I pick up barehanded, etc., etc.

It was something much older that made me sick, something I thought I had learned back in grade school when I became an outcast, and later, when I couldn’t find a boyfriend like everyone else. I realized then that there was no point in wanting what everyone else had. I knew, in a moment much like the one I experienced at the beginning of this week, that what everyone else has will never make me happy. Life is not one size fits all.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit it. What I wanted was to become a Big Name Pagan. I wanted to give talks and write books and not have to go back to this job that was not the deal I made with the Earth, lo, those many years ago.

Now it isn’t that I don’t have a book in me. I have many, as a matter of fact. I have songs and albums, the Awen has a metric fuckton of work for me to do. But not for attention. Not for status. For Gaia, and for Saturn, my taskmaster. For Taliesin, my inner container, strong and skilled, into which the Awen pours beauty. I forgot for a moment that all this stuff wants is a conduit to come through into the world, and that Cerridwen told me that all I had to do was serve my purpose. The rewards will come, and their form will be surprising. Jupiter will make me wealthy. I just have to remember that my conception of wealth has very little to do with money.

I forgot all this, and I made myself miserable and sick.

I’m all better now. Life is crammed full of wonder and wealth. The sun shines gold on me, the rain pours silver on my head. I met Rambling Jack Elliott yesterday, a Uranian twist of fate if ever there was one. I accompanied him around the vessel he knew well back in the day, listened to his silly jokes, and how he was chased off the boat at nineteen by the guy who used to own her in the Thirties. Amid the sound of the chipping hammers I’d do anything to be able to swing again, pulling dainty little covers off capstans that have no need of such fripperies, pulled from my servant’s station where I had been placed by the Hollywood Pirate who will never see these gallant Ladies as anything more than a rung on the ladder of status.

I went back to my bench, with my laminated slices of My Lady’s History, under the cotton candy clouds, beneath the brilliant blue sky, and realized that I am exactly where I need to be, for now. My sentence is coming to an end, with every status-seeker who moves on, with every story I tell of the 5,000 year history of deforestation that passed through our vessels, with every light that goes on behind the eyes of some traveler who thought they were coming to see the “pirate ships.”

You got more than you bargained for when you ran into this Bard, no? My workplace got more than it knew when it hired a resident Witch. And the Ladies got exactly what they deserved.

Talking Druidry With Emily Hawthorne

Emily Hawthorne of Hello My Bunnies and Bats was kind enough not only to interview me at Pantheacon in February, but to put the video up on her channel.

She was a delight in our hospitality room at the con, and her channel has some interesting vids on it. It was great talking to her, I only wish we didn’t have a whole continent between us! Conversations like this are why we run the room at Pan every year, and I’m grateful we actually got a sampling of the kinds of things we talk about in the room online. At the end, there’s one of my original songs.